Polls indicate Kevin O‚ÄôLeary has a good chance of becoming the next leader of the federal Conservative Party, but all bets are off on him sticking around if the party loses the next election or ends up with a minority government.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve said to the caucus, I‚Äôm going to deliver a majority mandate or fire me,‚ÄĚ Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said in an interview last week with The Hill Times from the M√©tropolitain Brasserie in downtown Ottawa. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs it. This is balls to the wall. I can‚Äôt do what I need to do in this country without a majority mandate. I can‚Äôt cast out the virus of Trudeau without a majority mandate. ‚Ä¶ You have to go into the mandate with people understanding what you‚Äôre going to do.‚ÄĚ
When pressed to clarify if he would leave his post as party leader if the Conservatives end up with a minority government or in opposition after the 2019 election, he said: ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt have contingency plans on failure. That doesn‚Äôt work. That‚Äôs not how I run my business. I set a goal; I achieve it, the majority of the time. That‚Äôs why I‚Äôm successful. I don‚Äôt waste my energy planning on failure.‚ÄĚ
Mr. O‚ÄôLeary was clear that if he doesn‚Äôt win the party leadership, he has no intention of running for a seat in the House of Commons.
And if he does win, he‚Äôs not sure if he‚Äôll be in a rush to get a seat either. Mr. O‚ÄôLeary cited Justin Trudeau‚Äôs (Papineau, Que.) activity as Liberal leader before becoming prime minster as an example for how his time might be best spent. Despite being an MP, Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said Mr. Trudeau spent little time in the House, and instead was out drumming up support.
‚Äú[Mr. Trudeau] basically went to universities, colleges, and technical schools and dragged that new constituency of the 18- to 35-year-old into the race and got 80 per cent of the vote from them, which is fantastic,‚ÄĚ Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said.
He noted how the Stephen Harper-led Conservatives had a similar number of votes in 2015 as in 2011 (5.6 million versus 5.8 million, respectively) but ‚Äúmissed that whole demographic‚ÄĚ of younger voters. Part of Mr. O‚ÄôLeary‚Äôs sales pitch is that he can win that youth vote.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs never been a candidate in the Conservative Party in the last 20 years that has done what I‚Äôve done: get 1,000 students at [a] Queen‚Äôs [University rally]. ‚Ä¶ So I‚Äôm going to go college by college by college.‚ÄĚ
Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said, based on visits he‚Äôs made to post-secondary schools during the leadership campaign, he thinks Mr. Trudeau‚Äôs support among younger voters is vulnerable.
‚ÄúThose students are pissed at Trudeau,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúHe promised them jobs and sunny ways. All they have is a bare light bulb in the basement of their parents‚Äô homes, where they live. They‚Äôre really unhappy.‚ÄĚ
Polling done by Mainstreet Research for iPolitics showed Mr. O‚ÄôLeary was the first choice for almost 25 per cent of Conservative party members asked between March 21 and 24. That put him firmly in first place and was up about three points from a week earlier. Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.) was second at 18 per cent, and Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) was third with 12 per cent.
At one point during last week‚Äôs interview, Mr. O‚ÄôLeary went as far as to put his odds of winning the leadership at ‚Äú100 per cent.‚ÄĚ At another juncture in the discussion, in relation to how things might work with the preferential-ballot system in this contest, he said ‚Äúnobody can forecast that outcome with certainty,‚ÄĚ while adding that he‚Äôs ‚Äúextremely optimistic,‚ÄĚ based on internal figures.
He declined to get into the specifics of why he thinks the numbers‚ÄĒwhen considering who‚Äôll get second- and potentially third-or fourth-choice votes‚ÄĒwork out in his favour.
‚ÄúAt the end of the day, the membership only has one decision to make: who can beat Justin Trudeau? ‚Ä¶ I‚Äôm it. Show me one other candidate that can take that guy down. And that‚Äôs what we‚Äôre going to have to do. This is going to be a fight. Good against evil. Light against darkness. That‚Äôs what this is. It‚Äôs an exorcism. ‚Äú
As over the top Mr. O‚ÄôLeary is in his criticisms of Mr. Trudeau, he has not attacked his Conservative rivals, despite being a target for them. For example, he‚Äôs been called a ‚Äúloser‚ÄĚ by Mr. Bernier and a ‚Äúchicken‚ÄĚ by Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.), who‚Äôs also launched a Stop Kevin O‚ÄôLeary website that says he‚Äôs ‚Äúwrong for the Conservative Party and wrong for Canada.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt attack fellow Conservatives,‚ÄĚ Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said. ‚ÄúI go after the problem we actually have in this country; his name is Justin Trudeau. I spend my energy focusing on his very ineffective management skills. So I don‚Äôt waste my time attacking other candidates. I don‚Äôt find that very fruitful.
‚ÄúInvesting your energy in bashing your fellow candidates seems like a complete waste of time to me. That is not going to endear you to members. It doesn‚Äôt help the party. And it certainly distracts the energy away from the ultimate goal, which is to remove Justin Trudeau from power because he‚Äôs such an incompetent leader.‚ÄĚ
Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said he will not hold grudges against leadership rivals who have attacked him.
‚ÄúThe nature of a leadership race is a civil war,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúYou, as a candidate, have to decide what your strategy is. I don‚Äôt tell other candidates what to do. ‚Ä¶ I understand rhetoric and noise and all that.‚ÄĚ
He laughed at being called a ‚Äúchicken‚ÄĚ by Ms. Raitt after he refused to participate in a debate in Edmonton.
‚ÄúI thought the chicken was terrific,‚ÄĚ he said, adding that he was considering having a picture of himself taken in a chicken suit. ‚ÄúWhen you see a guy in a chicken suit, you have to feel sorry for him. Something went wrong in his career.‚ÄĚ
If he wins the leadership, Mr. O‚ÄôLeary‚ÄĒa businessman and TV personality who‚Äôs one of the few people in this leadership race who‚Äôs not a sitting or former MP‚ÄĒsaid he‚Äôs ready ‚Äúreboot‚ÄĚ his relationship with the other leadership candidates and caucus members, most of whom have thrown their support behind someone else.
‚ÄúThe way I look at the caucus is they are the board of directors of the Conservative Party,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve served on many boards in my time. I understand how the politics work. We will work together internally. We may have our differences; we will keep them within our closed walls. Then we will represent a consistent front to the Canadian people in terms of policy and direction.‚ÄĚ
Mr. Bernier‚Äôs ‚Äúloser‚ÄĚ comment came after Mr. O‚ÄôLeary went public with concerns that some within the Conservative leadership race were creating fake memberships. While Mr. O‚ÄôLeary did not publicly point his finger at any particular candidate, reports indicated Mr. Bernier‚Äôs team was under scrutiny‚ÄĒand he came out swinging against Mr. O‚ÄôLeary.
Mr. O‚ÄôLeary, meanwhile, said he had no idea what campaign might have been creating fraudulent memberships when he came forward with concerns, based not on concrete evidence, but on anecdotes he was hearing from party organizers.
Given his experience with highly scrutinized and regulated financial markets, he said this kind of deception didn‚Äôt sit right with him.
‚ÄúIf you‚Äôre breaching integrity or you‚Äôre breaching covenants of compliance, you‚Äôre basically out of business,‚ÄĚ Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said. ‚ÄúNot having been involved in the political process before, I was quite surprised to start hearing about these strategies from organizers that have been used apparently for decades.‚ÄĚ
He added: ‚ÄúWhen you live in my world, there is zero tolerance for this. You‚Äôre at risk at losing your livelihood in perpetuity; it‚Äôs over. So I don‚Äôt know how else to deal with this.‚ÄĚ
The Conservative Party came out a day after Mr. O‚ÄôLeary went public and said it had found 1,351 party memberships under the names of people who had not bought them, and they were cancelled.
Mr. O‚ÄôLeary lauded the party for dealing with the issue quickly, adding that he hopes it is still trying to find out which campaigns were responsible.
He likened the importance of honesty and transparency in politics to the relationship one has with a spouse.
‚ÄúThe first time you cheat on them and lie to them, you lose 50 per cent of your equity forever and you never get it back,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no way that relationship is ever going to be the same. ‚Ä¶ So you should treat the voter that way, too. It‚Äôs better to tell the truth all the time so at least, even if they don‚Äôt agree with you, you have the trust.‚ÄĚ
The deadline for becoming a Conservative Party member in time to vote in the leadership contest was March 28. Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said his campaign signed up 35,336 new members, and he‚Äôs willing to have each one audited.
Mr. O‚ÄôLeary said he hopes that by coming forward with his concerns, which was about two weeks before the membership deadline, he had some effect on the way this race is playing out.
‚ÄúIf I were a candidate‚ÄĒand I‚Äôm not pointing any fingers‚ÄĒthat was about to submit fraudulent memberships, I would think multiple times before I did that, because you know there‚Äôs a heightened scrutiny,‚ÄĚ he said.
The Hill Times